Veronika Keller: Sounds of Tears: Mozart’s Lacrimosa in Different Media

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Classical music, in its broadest definition, is music written in Europe or European-influenced countries between the middle ages and the twentieth century (Finscher). But more importantly, it is defined by a distinction from folk or popular music, a contrast that is set up by many scholars in terms of classical music being (high) art and popular music being entertainment.[1]

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 I do not follow this distinction. Most of today’s so-called classical music was at one point composed to be entertaining (mostly at court), and there are a numerous examples for pop music being highly conceptualized and artistic. In the public opinion, though, this binary still prevails, and maybe the prejudice about classical music being artistic and therefore hard to listen to is the reason why so many people just say they do not like, hear or know classical music. This disinterest toward classical music is, when it comes to live performances, especially true for younger adults, as a survey by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) from 2012 shows: of all US adults attending a classical concert in the past twelve months of the survey, only 9.7 % were between 18 and 24 (NEA 12). The ratio is even lower (7.7 %) when it comes to watching a classical music performance via TV/radio or the internet (NEA 30), so the high prices of tickets for many classical concerts cannot be the only explanation for this disinterest of an age group which at an average has a low income. Of course going to a concert is not the only way to listen to classical music nowadays, and studies show that there is not really an age gap when it comes to just listening to classical music, especially thanks to Youtube and Spotify, but classical music as a whole is, along with Heavy Metal or Singer/Songwriter, one of the less preferred music genres (Audience Net 36).

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Despite this relative unpopularity in the US, classical pieces are often used in movies, TV series, and video games. And their function is not only to mirror the common association between classical music and a sophistication by using it in scenes set in a fancy restaurant, the house of a rich person, or using it for the stereotypical mafia godfather listening to Italian arias. More often, classical music is used to evoke emotions in a more general way, and it thus becomes a part of the narrative itself, as I will show by using the example of Mozart’s Lacrimosa (part of Requiem, KV 626) in this paper.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 As William Gibbons wrote in his book Unlimited Replays. Video Games and Classical Music, “(…) over significant periods of time, and through a variety of methods, music accumulates multiple layers of meaning” (2). On an strictly individual level, these meanings can be quite different from person to person, depending on situations one connects with a specific piece of music. But there are also more general layers of meaning where a certain understanding of a musical piece is shared by a bigger group and therefore can be used for communication and narrative purposes.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Especially in the nineteenth century, musical scholars and the public went so far as calling music a universal language, which meant that the emotions and stories behind a piece can supposedly  be understood by everybody across language and cultural barriers (cf. Gienow-Hecht 2). This position is no longer accepted today, as scholars now recognize that the meaning behind a musical piece has to be learned like any other code. Although it may be argued that European-American-influenced music is so widespread and dominant across the world that many people grow up listening to and therefore learn to understand certain meanings behind the music early on. In many cases, this happens subconsciously by hearing certain musical patterns and connecting them to certain emotions and events.[2] For example, many listeners will understand or at least feel the implication of sadness behind a piece like Chopin’s Marche Funèbre (op. 35) or connect Mendelssohn’s Wedding March from his A Midsummer Night’s Dream (op. 61; MWV M 13) to said happy occasion—even if they may not know the titles or composers of these works.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 In this paper, I argue that this subconscious learning process works on three different levels: through the music itself and its original narrative, through different media, and within a single medium.[3] To illustrate this I chose Mozart’s Requiem, and even more specific its Lacrimosa. This piece is embedded in a liturgical background and therefore the original narrative and emotions conveyed through music are quite easily decoded. It is also used quite dominantly in several movies, TV series, and video games, making it a major example of the usage of a musical piece across different media. And finally, it has a prominent role in the game BioShock: Infinite, where its own layer of meaning is established inside the game and is even connected to the gameplay itself, so that it becomes a part of the most important difference between games and other media: interactivity.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Liturgical and Musical Background

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 The Lacrimosa is deeply rooted in western/Christian music traditions, which Mozart also had in mind and to consider when composing it. It is part of the Requiem, a mass for the dead in Roman Catholic Church. Its parts are, as Mozart composed it, Introitus, Kyrie, Sequentia (Lacrimosa is the last piece of this part, while the also famous Dies Irae is the beginning), Offertorium, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei, and Communio. The Sequentia is, generally speaking, a chant or a hymn sung after the Allelujah and before the Offertory, where bread and wine are placed on the altar. There are different Sequentiae, for example for Easter or Pentecost (cf. Reichert, Kneif). The lyrics for the Lacrimosa in the Requiem were written in the thirteenth century; they are as follows, with an English translation:

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Lacrimosa dies illa
Qua resurget ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus:

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Huic ergo parce Deus
Pie Jesu Domine
Dona eis requiem

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0  

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 That day of tears and mourning,
From the dust of earth returning
Man for judgement must prepare him,

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Lord, have mercy on him.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Gentle Lord Jesus,

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 grant them eternal rest.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Amen.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 If you know the liturgical background of this mass of the dead and its lyrics, you already connect the overall theme of death with the piece, and more precisely the actual grieving process with the titular tears plus the major theme of waiting for judgment after death.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 Beyond that, there are also some compositional tools which you could understand and therefore relate to the emotion of grieving, if you grew up with the Western musical traditions: It is set in d minor, and minor in general is said to have a darker, maybe even sadder tone. The piece also begins with a motif that is very common in Baroque, Classical and Romantic music, the so-called “sigh motif”. This musical figure consists of a slurred note pair of accent and relaxation, usually in a semitone step, which thereby tries to imitate a human sigh. Thanks to this onomatopoeic character the figure possibly could be recognized, at least subconsciously, even by people who never heard of a sigh motif (cf. Kilian 81).

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Movie Narratives: Amadeus

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 Understanding these compositional tools like the sigh motif and therefore understanding the meaning behind musical pieces was part of the education of the middle and upper class in the nineteenth century. Therefore, the embedded codes were understood by many people, and references could be used in a different variety of settings and narratives. This also means that classical music in the nineteenth and early twentieth century was used in every entertainment sector, not only concerts or the opera, but also as part of vaudeville shows or for scoring ‘silent movies.’ With the rise of the ‘talkies’ in the late 1920s and early 1930s, classical music became therefore part of their soundtracks, too.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 There is not much scholarly research about the usage of specific classical pieces throughout different movies up until now, and the Internet Movie Database’s collection of soundtracks is huge but certainly not complete. The data currently available indicate that parts of Mozart’s Requiem were not used much in movie soundtracks from the 1930s through the 1950s; there are movies with Mozart’s music from that time, but they mostly use Eine kleine Nachtmusik (KV 525) or an aria. Beginning with the 1960s, there are some lesser-known movies using the Requiem, like the Spanish-Mexican Viridiana (1961), which includes parts of the Requiem, though not the Lacrimosa. Therefore, it seems that the starting point of this piece’s greater public awareness has to be Miloš Forman’s Amadeus (1984). In this movie, the writing of the Requiem itself is part of the plot, though not in a very historically accurate way (for example, there is no evidence of Salieri really being the instigator of Mozart’s demise, and the way Mozart always composes in a frenzy and without thinking much about it had nothing to do with his actual working process). Because of these inaccuracies, many scholars still hate the movie, and Maurice Zam, former director of the LA Conservatory of Music, even declared: “Amadeus is dangerous to your musical health. It may prevent you from appreciating Mozart’s music, and pervert and poison your capacity for intelligent listening to all kinds of music” (qtd. in Kupferberg 240). Nevertheless, the movie made nearly 52 million dollars in the US and won eight Academy Awards, and it was for many moviegoers a new gateway to Mozart’s music (cf. Kupferberg 227). And thanks to a very clear connection between the story,  the representation of emotions on screen, and specific music pieces, it was also a way to understand certain layers of this music.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 The movie leans quite heavily on Mozart’s music within its soundtrack, most prominently Il Nozze di Figaro (KV 492), The Magic Flute (KV 620), and Requiem, whose composing processes and, in the case of the two operas, premieres are also part of the plot. This means that most of Mozart’s music in the movie can be called diegetic, being either actually performed within a scene or as an auditive manifestation of Mozart’s composing process.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 This is also true for the Requiem, whose composing process is the main plot of the last third of the movie, beginning with the commissioning of the piece by a black masked man. The composing process of this mass for the dead from then on accompanies Mozart’s failing health and is set in a stark contrast to his composing the more cheerful ‘Singspiel’ The Magic Flute.

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 In her book about Amadeus, Cornelia Szabó-Knotik put together a table of the different uses of Mozart’s music, focusing on their diegetic and non-diegetic character (cf. 34-35).[4] Here one can see that, in contrast to the predominantly diegetic use of the other musical pieces in the movie, parts of the Requiem are used non-diegetically, beginning with the first chords of the piece when Mozart got the commission. From that scene on, some parts of the Requiem therefore become a way for the director to communicate with the audience by foreshadowing and underlining the emotions represented on screen.[5]

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 Mozart’s whole dying process, underscored by parts of the Requiem, culminates and ends with his death and funeral, both accompanied by the Lacrimosa. These scenes undeniably invoke emotions like grieving and despair (through the acting, the setting, and the story itself) in the audience, which are enhanced by the music itself because of the already stated liturgical and musical reasons. At the same time for the viewer the sad meaning of these scenes is now connected to this musical piece and probably can be invoked the next time he hears it. Therefore a layer for understanding the music is added even for people without the liturgical or musical background.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 After Amadeus, other movies like The Offering (1997) or Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2001) used the Lacrimosa in similar manners, and thanks to a spoof of Forman’s movie in The Simpsons episode 15.11 “Magical History Tour” from 2004, this connection between Mozart’s death and the Lacrimosa was repeated for a younger generation: when Bart/Mozart dies, you hear the first notes from the Lacrimosa. Finally, especially since the 2010s, Mozart’s Lacrimosa was also widely used in TV-series, most prominently in episode 1.4 of The Crown when it is used to foreshadow the death and despair the city of London will have to face because of the ‘Great Fog of London.’

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 A Layer of Its Own: BioShock: Infinite

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 Both purposes mentioned for Amadeus and The Crown—the foreshadowing of tragedy and the accompanying of a path to death, are also major functions for the Requiem’s use in BioShock:Infinite, though here in the end the Lacrimosa also gets its own meaning in the game.

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 BioShock: Infinite (2013) is known for its creative use of pre-composed music as a way to comment on the story and foreshadowing future events.[6] This is especially true for the Requiem, heard for the first time in Lady Comstock’s Memorial Hall. At this point in the game the main protagonist Booker DeWitt, after arriving at the (seemingly) utopian floating city of Columbia, freed a young girl named Elizabeth, and now they are trying to leave the city. Their escape takes them to the mausoleum and memorial exhibition of Lady Annabel Comstock, the martyrized wife of Columbia’s leader and self-proclaimed prophet, Zackary Comstock, and, as we learn later on, Elizabeth’s mother. The memorial is divided into four different rooms, each dedicated to one part of Annabel’s life story and each musically accompanied by a part from Mozart’s Requiem:

LocationMovement of Requiem
“The Memorial of Our Lady”Lacrimosa
“The Transport of the Child”Agnus Dei (opening only)
“The Murder of Our Lady”Rex tremendae
“The Vengeance of the Prophet”Confutatis

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 Table 1: Mozart’s Requiem in BioShock: Infitine (source: Gibbons 45)

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 In his analysis, Gibbons concentrates mostly on the Requiem “as a sonic manifestation of the larger issues of quantum mechanics and uncertainty” (44), as well as the liturgical meaning of the different parts in connection to the story about Lady Comstock (45-47). His analysis of the Lacrimosa is quite short, though, and especially since this part of the Requiem becomes quite important later on, some additional thoughts are necessary.

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 As Booker enters the first room of the Memorial Hall, the Lacrimosa immediately begins to play. The sound of the music itself at this moment is a little scratchy, as if coming from an old record player, therefore making it a diegetic part of the soundscape inside the world of the game. This is a new take on the non-diegetic use of these musical pieces in the other media discussed before: the music should not only speak to the player but also to the public of Columbia. For them this hall, which includes not only the music but also large oil paintings of Lady Comstock as well as a fountain with a weeping angel, visualizing the titular ‘lacrimosa’ (lat. for weeping, tearful), should be a place for mourning.

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 This meaning as a fixture in the world itself becomes even clearer when you think about the question of anachronism represented in the game via music: in BioShock: Infinite you can hear quite a lot of modern pop-songs like God only Knows by the Beach Boys (1966) or Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper (1983). They are played in 1910s’ versions, in these two cases sung by a Barbershop Quartet and played by a calliope, respectively. These songs therefore “(…) both reinforce[e] and destabilize[e] the player’s sense of time and place” (Gibbons 43). When it comes to the Requiem, however, there is no question of anachronism anymore. It was composed in 1791 and can easily be part of a world set in 1912. This means that Mozart’s music, and every emotional and narrative function it has, is a natural part of the world that the player does not have to question after hearing the music for the first time.

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 Even the liturgical meaning behind the Requiem seems quite fitting for the memorial hall: there are many Christian themes scattered in the game up to this point (cf. Gibbons 44-47), and when the player visits the other three rooms, it becomes very clear that Lady Comstock’s life and death are interweaved with a Christian narrative that strongly parallels the story of the Holy Family, again making the Requiem an obvious and quite fitting part of the world. But players at this point in the game already know that all this religious behavior is only a façade, so the whole arrangement must strike them as cynical and ideological rather than genuine. This is proven later on in the narrative by the fact that Lady Comstock was not, as the official story goes, killed by an anarchist, and she was not a martyr of the utopian ideas of Columbia. Instead, her husband had her assassinated because she threatened to reveal the truth about his manipulative and ruthless nature to the public.

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 This revelation, which subverts both the Christian and utopian aspects of her story, is foreshadowed in the use of an abridged version of the Lacrimosa in this scene: if the player knows the original music piece he realizes quite early on that a big part, namely the two lines about the resurrection of the dead and their judgment, was left out. This omits the original Christian meaning behind death from this piece, and it is another indication that this ‘Christianity’ is only a façade. This also means that even the seemingly fitting Lacrimosa in this world is, literally, broken.

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 The mentioned omission of the parts about the resurrection will seem even more poignant in retrospect, because when we hear the Lacrimosa again later in the game Lady Comstock is actually resurrected as a violent ghost, which would make the omission a more complex ironic foreshadowing that is important in what it does not announce.[7] This second usage of the Lacrimosa in the game happens when Booker and Elizabeth arrive at the tomb of Lady Comstock. There the Lacrimosa is played through loudspeakers in an eternal loop, as a reference to the memorial hall and Lady Comstock herself. At this point, the Lacrimosa has been inscribed with a new layer of meaning inside the world of BioShock as a Leitmotif, a piece of music connected with Lady Comstock. This is expanded even further when the music becomes part of the gameplay: after Lady Comstock is ‘resurrected,’ meaning the dead one from this dimension is merged with a living one from another, she becomes a screaming siren who sometimes sings the first part of the Lacrimosa. Its sound is twisted and electronically manipulated, but on some occasions still recognizable. The player has to shoot this siren and can use this specific music to find her location in the chaos and through other loud noises at the cemetery after her ‘resurrection.’ Thus, in the end the Lacrimosa becomes a kind of fighting marker and therefore gets a totally new layer of meaning for every player of BioShock Infinite.

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 Conclusion

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 Up to this point the Lacrimosa had a quite stringent narrative meaning of mourning and grieving in all the media I discussed, be it its original liturgical or musical connotation or its use in movies, TV series and BioShock. This use of already known musical pieces can enhance the narrative, either by foreshadowing or deepening the shown emotions, if the viewer is familiar with its meaning. This mainly happens via repetition in different media. In the case of the Lacrimosa, its original meaning of mourning is present in every given example, and therefore this particular reading is strengthened in the collective mind, even if the individual doesn’t necessarily remember every scene in which it is used in detail.

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 Yet the very last example of the Lacrimosa as a battle cry shows that pre-composed music can obtain new layers of meaning within a given medium, though in this case it probably will not change the perception of the music piece for the majority of people. Yet precisely this has happened in some cases, and a new layer of meaning became more dominant in popular culture than the original one: two examples of this phenomenon are Richard Strauss’s ‘Introduction’ in Also sprach Zarathustra (op. 30), now generally evoking associations with outer space because of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries (from Die Walküre, WWV 86B), which after Apocalypse Now is associated with helicopter attacks. In their very first installments, both pieces had a narrative meaning you could trace back to its original intention, but afterwards the connection between the movie images and the music became much stronger than that between the original narrative and the music. However, if we want to determine a turning point for this change of meaning we need more analysis of just one music piece through all media, including video games. Especially video games with their interactive character could have a great potential for such changes, because the player not only listens to music but also has to react with it to advance in the game world. But they also play an important role in repeating the established interpretation of certain music pieces, and therefore their role in acquiring musical literacy is now as important as that of movies and TV series.

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 Works Cited

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 Audience Net. 2017, Music Consumption: The Overall Landscape. London, 2017.

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 BioShock: Infinite. Irrational Games, 2K Games, for Microsoft Windows, 2013.

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 Finscher, Ludwig. “Klassik”. MGG Online, edited by Laurenz Lütteken, Bärenreiter-Verlag, Verlag J. B. Metzler, RILM, 2016, https://www.mgg-online.com/mgg/stable/12219. Accessed 31 Oct. 2018.

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 Forman, Miloš, director. Amadeus. Orion Pictures, 1984.

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 Gibbons, William. Unlimited Replays: Video Games and Classical Music. Oxford UP, 2018.

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 Gienow-Hecht, Jessica C. E. Sound Diplomacy: Music and Emotions in Transatlantic Relations, 1850-1920. U of Chicago P, 2009.

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 Holbrook, Morris B. “The Ambi-Diegesis of ‘My Funny Valentine’” Pop Fiction: The Song in Cinema, edited by Steve Lannin and Matthew Caley, Intellect Books, 2005.

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 Johnson, Julian. Who Needs Classical Music? Cultural Choice and Musical Value. Oxford UP, 2002.

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 Kilian, Gerald. Norm und Subjektivität im Spätstil Mozarts: zur Analyse, Didaktik und Methodik der späten Werke Mozarts. Die Blaue Eule, 2002.

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 Kupferberg, Herbert. Amadeus: A Mozart Mosaic. McGraw-Hill, 1986.

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 Mehr, Samuel A., Manvis Singh, et al. “Form and Function in Human Song.” Current Biology vol. 28, no.3 (2018), pp. 356-68.

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 National Endowment for the Arts. A Decade of Arts Engagement: Findings from the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, 2002–2012 [NEA research report # 59]. Washington DC, 2015.

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 Reichert, Ursula, and Tibor Kneif. “ Requiem.“ MGG Online, edited by Laurenz Lütteken, Bärenreiter-Verlag, Verlag J. B. Metzler, RILM, 2016, https://www.mgg-online.com/mgg/stable/11933. Accessed 31 Oct. 2018.

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 Szabó-Knotik, Cornelia. Amadeus: Milos Formans Film als musikhistorisches Phänomen. Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 1999.

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 [1] See for example Johnson, Julian. Who Needs Classical Music? Cultural Choice and Musical Value. Oxford, 2002.

56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 [2] Recent studies also suggest that people can always differentiate between the purpose a music piece has, and by doing so can distinguish between for example a lullaby and a dance song (see Mehr, Manvis, et al. p. 356-368).

57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 [3] I will ignore the level of connecting music to personal experience, because these connections can be quite different and even conflicting with the broader understanding of a musical piece, as for example even the ‘happiest’ song can be connected to a sad situation.

58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 [4] However, she does not use the two terms but speaks about “O-Ton” (literally, ‘original sound’) when it comes to diegetic music and “Hintergrund” (background) for non-diegetic music. Her “Originalvertonung” (original setting) on the other hand can be part of both categories: the Dies irae and Confutatis are in a way diegetic as they are the auditive manifestations of the composing seen on screen, whereas Rex tremendae is non-diegetic and underscores Mozart’s realization that his wife left him.

59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 [5] There is no consent among scholars about the different meaning of music if it is diegetic or non-diegetic. Moris B. Holbrook summarized the most common opinion: “(…) diegetic music serves primarily to reinforce the realistic depiction of the mise-en-scène (…),” while in contrast “(…) non-diegetic music contributes to a film’s dramatic development by fleshing out a character, developing a theme, signaling an impendent event, or otherwise drawing on associations and identifications that add depth to the meaning of the motion picture” (48).

60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 [6] For a detailed analysis of the used modern pop-songs and classical pieces see Gibbons, Chapter 3. Here he analyzes the pop songs in BioShock and their anachronistic nature in the game’s world for “(…) reinforcing and destabilizing the player’s sense of time and place” (43), as well as the use of the music of Richard Wagner, a known anti-Semite, in the scene where a mixed-raced couple is almost stoned by a crowd (44).

61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 [7] Gibbons offers a similar interpretation of the second room and its Agnus Dei: the scene shows Elizabeth as a baby and her relocation to the secluded tower in which she lived most of her life until Booker freed her. The Agnus Dei comments therefore on her role as the titular Lamb of God and therefore messiah, a role of Elizabeth in Columbia’s society we can find throughout the game (Gibbons 46-47).

Source: https://opr.degruyter.com/playing-the-field-video-games-and-american-studies/veronika-keller-sounds-of-tears-mozarts-lacrimosa-in-different-media/